Area 51? Forget it! In terms of SpaceX Crew Dragon – it’s all Area 59
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With 2018 just taking its initial steps SpaceX is already moving forward with plans for the new year. The company’s COO, Gwynne Shotwell, noted during a 2016 press conference, the “hell” they won’t fly crew before 2019. That year has come and, according to Florida Today’s James Dean, Crew Dragon is being readied for this mission via a recent agreement signed between SpaceX and the U.S. Air Force.
Area 59, a site previously used for the processing of satellites, will now be used to get the Crew Dragon spacecraft ready to send astronauts to the International Space Station under the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
This is just the latest location along Florida’s Space Coast to fall under SpaceX’s influence. Kicking off with Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40, the NewSpace company has also gained the use of Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A and Space Launch Complex 13 (since renamed Landing Zone 1).
When coupled with Vandenberg Air Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 4E (East) in California and its facilities at Boca Chica, Texas – SpaceX has expanded its launch and processing operations across the United States.
Like a number of facilities at CCAFS and KSC, Area 59 was tapped by the U.S. Air Force to be closed down and offered up to commercial entities like SpaceX in 2014. According to Florida Today’s report, the commander of the 45th Space Wing, Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, said that an estimated one million square feet had either been leased or licensed to the private sector as part of the Commercial Space Launch Act.
Also according to the report posted on Florida Today, SpaceX hopes to conduct its first (unmanned) Crew Dragon test flight in April with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner currently eyeing an August uncrewed launch date. Should everything with these flights go off without a hitch, crewed flights could take place as early as August and November (respectively).
The United States has lacked the ability to launch astronauts on its own since 2011 when the final space shuttle mission, STS-135, came to an end with Shuttle Atlantis touching down at the Shuttle Landing Facility’s runway 15 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Since that time, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz flights to get to and from the orbiting laboratory (each seat has been estimated at costing NASA $70 million).
Meanwhile, Florida’s finicky weather appears to be cooperating for this week’s planned launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with the secret “Zuma” payload currently slated to take to the skies Thursday, Jan. 4. The launch window is scheduled to open at 8 p.m. EST and extends two hours.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.